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Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth Hardcover – October 25, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

These three books take different approaches to the basic question, How can we live a meaningful life? To find an answer, Vanier (Becoming Human) turns to Aristotle, offering a detailed account of his views on the virtues. Vanier shows that Aristotle based his ethics on a cultivation of individual excellence that did not exclude the values of friendship and life in society. Vanier does not, however, wholly embrace Aristotle, arguing that his system was elitist and needs to be corrected by Christian compassion. Like Vanier, Kekes (The Examined Life) emphasizes the virtues, but his approach to the good life is pluralistic rather than Aristotelian. Arguing that no formalist doctrine such as Kant's can provide universally valid rules for leading a moral life, he instead maintains that the study of admirable individuals furnishes the guidelines we need. Among those Kekes finds worthy of emulation are Montaigne and Thomas More, who balanced public responsibilities with private commitments. Kekes offers a close analysis of their conduct, thereby hoping to convey a sense of how choosing a personal ideal is influenced by general moral constraints. Bell suggests a more personal way of addressing life's meaning, discussing incidents in his own life that may help others find an answer to this question. In particular, he stresses his need to subordinate personal ambition to the Civil Rights Movement. His principled stand involved him in several crucial conflicts, one of which led to his resignation from the faculty of Harvard Law School. (He is now a visiting professor at NYU.) Bell also presents insights on his friendship with women and on religion, again from a personal perspective. These three books are highly recommended for all public libraries.
David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Bell, law professor and former civil rights lawyer, has repeatedly shown himself a model of principle and conscience. The first black tenured professor in the Harvard Law School, he endured personal sacrifice and criticism after taking a voluntary unpaid leave of absence to protest the school's failure to secure a woman of color in a tenured-track position. Bell provides substantial insight into his struggle to meet what he calls an ethical standard. He admits that an obsession with ambition, even in an altruistic sense, may violate the ethical obligations owed to family. He explores the conflicts of issues in his own religious traditions that he negotiates to reach a higher spiritual awareness often lost in traditional religions. Bell also cites examples of widely known ethically principled individuals--W. E. B. DuBois and Martin L. King Jr., among others--who often strove for higher ethical standards, alone and at great personal cost. His book offers great insight into how an individual seeks to live by the highest of personal standards and ideals. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (October 25, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582342059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582342054
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 0.9 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Professor Bell deserves kudos on his latest book,Ethical Ambition. I completed his book several weeeks ago and found it to be food for the soul and mind.
I particularly enjoyed the life and faith lessons that can be learned from this book. Professor Bell's examples of making ethically moral choices even when they are unpopular were extraordinary. The several examples where he resigned due to his employer's lack of inclusiveness, or where he was denied his constitutional right to free association were memorable.
Also, most noteworthy are the examples of the Israeli soldiers that risked court martial for the rights of other people; and the college dean that questioned why the college athletes were allowed to graduate with minimal skills while tutors and professors pass them along. Each one of his examples of human courage made me reflect and feel warm and peaceful inside.
By reading this book, I, too, became reflective and tried to envision how this book had meaning in my life. I remembered the circumstance when I refused to join an organization because I was told not all races were included. I refused to join because the price to my morals and any notion that I have to right and wrong would have been irreparable.
I think one of the main lessons to remember from this book is that we are all here together. We can not live our lives in a vacuum. We must make ethical life choices for the betterment of the human race.

God bless Professor Bell and us too because we are able to read his writing that enrich our lives. Professor Bell is a wonderful person and exquisite writer with vision. I thoroughly enjoyed his thoughtful, knowledgeable and humanistic views of our life experiences.
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Format: Hardcover
I was a student of Professor Bell's at law school many years ago. I have followed his career with interest since then, and have read a number of his marvelous and creative "law books" which explore issues of equality and human rights. Those books are very accessible to readers, whether they are familiar with legal issues or not.
"Ethical Ambition" goes well beyond anything Derrick Bell has ever written. This is his meditation on living a successful and ethical life. I read the book (my first reading) in two nights, and was mesmerized by his stories and insights. I found myself tearing up a sheet of paper and placing it between the pages that I wanted to come back to and further explore. I think the book is intended as a springboard to thought by the reader, as he or she explores his or her own life and the lives of others who have influenced us. It is intended to be shared with others as a "gift"--you want other people to have their own experiences with the book, which is a most effective surrogate for visiting with Professor Bell and the people around him.
I have been asked to speak to a group of law students about the impact of the civil rights movement of the 1960s on the practice of law and the treatment of minority lawyers and clients. I feel that I am infinitely more capable of expressing my own ideas after spending time with this book, which helped to elucidate and clarify ideas that were not well formulated in my own mind.
What more may one ask of a book or a teacher? In addition to what you may gain, this meditation on life's great themes is an easy and enjoyable read.
Please take the trip with Professor Bell and his life companions--it will be a most worthwhile, honest and life-affirming journey, and should leave you with a better understanding of your own life and an appreciation for the lives of people around you
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Format: Hardcover
Although I know of the author, I didn't read any of his works until this one. This one grabbed me because it explored the various things people do in exchange of comfort,personal freedom. Mr Bell pointed out that his mother went to the landlord with the rent money, and told them that if they wanted to see the money, they better fix the steps to their home which was in disrepair. The steps were fixed.Another example told of Bell in the early 60s, after suffering indignities on a trip to Mississippi, unwittingly went into a phone booth in the white section, and got pulled out of the booth by two police officers. But he feels that giving up something on the matter of principle, bought the greatest rewards in the end. And it is something that he(the author) experienced himself. Thought provoking and enlightening.
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Format: Hardcover
I've always been distrustful of people with great ambition because I have often found them to be self interestd. In this book, Derrick Bell speaks of another kind of ambition, one that places ethics above greed and self-agrandizement. He speaks to those who have made unpopular choices in their lives, on the basis of principle. I found this book tremendously helpful to me, because I read it just after facing a particularly trying time in my job where I had to "go against the flow" so to speak. Bell strongly suggests that in those acts we are really being true to ourselves and to the greater good. The book isn't long, but the message is powerful.
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By J. Wright on October 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Professor Bell shares with us deep personal insight into how people struggle to reconcile their ambition with their ethics. He relates his triumphs, and his failures. Most importantly, he teaches us how to think about how much more we will enjoy our life if we put our ethics first, and then shape our ambitions around those ethics. As a young attorney only 6 years out of law school, I appreciated the life time of wisdom in this book -- it was just what I needed. Highly recommended, but an excellent gift for a law student or young attorney.
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